Tool Tips 07 – Keeping your Paint from Drying Out

Tool Tips 07 – Keeping your Paint from Drying Out

Last time (Tool Tips 06) we got through some of the preliminary tools to get to painting. Since it turns out that there is a lot to cover, this article is a continuation from the previous one.


Palettes – basically, something to put your paint on while painting. More importantly, something that will hold your paint while adding water (or mixing different colors together).

This could be just about anything, but you definitely don’t want to use a cheap paper plate that will start to break apart and get fibers in your paint during the process (yes, I’ve done that!). You want a material that will repel liquids, such as plastic or glass/ceramic. I don’t remember when I picked up a plastic palette, like the one above. It likely came in a set that I picked up for art class. It works well enough, acrylics rinse out easy. If the paint dried up, I could just peel the acrylic paint off the palette. Mixing paints with water, glaze medium, etc., easy. I rarely used more than a few of the little cups in the palette though. Sometimes I would put water or glaze medium in one cup, so that I could easily mix with paint as I go. All was lovely.

Then one day someone mentioned “wet palettes”, probably on the talkfantasyfootball forums. Curious, I did some research and watched some videos. And ended up with this:

Palette Sponge

Palette Paper

Wet Palette

You’ll notice that some of those links are “crossed out”. More on that in a minute. Not sure why, but I felt a little intimidated by the wet palette at first. Completely unfounded, as it’s not like I was working with hazardous chemicals or anything. I read the instructions, watched videos again, and a week later decided “Okay, let’s do this!”.

I took the cover off the palette. Added the sponge, got it wet, and placed a piece of the palette paper on top. Dampening it slightly. Shook up the paint…applied it to paper, and a bunch of the paint immediately ran across the whole paper and underneath to the sponge. That made things a bit messy, but I had come this far, so I decided to push on. The paints didn’t seem to dry out as fast as before…but the wet palette didn’t change my life. Despite what people had claimed. I was a bit let down. Especially after the sponge sheet dried afterwards and curled up.

But I wasn’t about to just give up, as there seemed to be at least a small difference in keeping the paint wet. I went through a few more iterations. Cutting the sponge down to smaller sizes and placing them in my old plastic palette. This palette took up less space than the huge ‘wet palette’ square palette. More importantly it helped contain the paint to a smaller area and I wouldn’t have to worry about paints accidentally mixing. Also, by cutting the palette paper into smaller strips, I wasn’t wasting entire sheets of palette paper each time.

This next phase ended up looking something like this:

Seems to work.

I then noticed that I’m not really using more than one paint at a time, and I wanted to make more space on my desk….so I ended up ditching the plastic palette and going with a leftover soy sauce container from a sushi set I once had. Which is what I’m using today. It doesn’t use a lot of space. In the rare instance that I have time to apply more than one color of paint, I’ll usually have used up all of the first paint already and there will be room on the paper for some more paint. Or I can add another piece of paper, a second sponge, or get my second serving dish out. I like it because it takes up so little space. Cleanup is easy, because the paint is going on the paper anyways. I just rinse out the container, toss the paper, and wring out the sponge to dry.


1) Wet Sponge – sopping wet

2) Place dampened paper (see below!) on top of sponge

3) Add Paint and mix small amount of water/flow aid, as desired. Voila! Paint!

And speaking of paper…

Parchment paper! I had kept painting away using the wet palette and the palette papers, but paints still seemed to dry out just slightly less than when I used to add them directly to the plastic palette. I reread the instructions, and noticed that it said to dip the parchment paper in warm water beforehand. So I tried that too, and it seemed to make another small difference, but after a long session the paint was still feeling a bit tacky.

Then one day I happened across this guy’s youtube videos: miniac. While I find him slightly obnoxious, he does have some great hobby tips. There was a video on using a wet palette and in that video he recommends using parchment paper. Now granted, I had heard that tip before, but Miniac essentially made it clear that the palette paper you typically buy with a wet palette is not suitable for what we’re doing. Huh, okay. So next time I was at the grocery store I found a roll on sale and took it home. Sure enough, when I set up the wet palette this time, I noticed a huge difference. Paints stayed nicely wet during my whole painting session. Never tacky. Amazing! I’m pretty sure I saw a flash of light and heard trumpets playing at this Eureka moment.

Conquering the Wet Palette!

Parchment paper turned out to be the missing ingredient in the quest to get the wet palette right. And this brings us back to the items crossed off the list way at top. If I could rewind, I would stop myself from buying the wet palette container and definitely the palette paper. They are both pretty much useless. I would probably also kick myself for not really listening to all the people saying ‘save some money, and make your own’! All you really need is some sort of container (plastic or glass/ceramic) and a sponge and PARCHMENT PAPER! Now, I don’t know if the sponge is anything special, other than being sort of thin, but I guess you could try out a regular thin sponge first.

I’m now realizing that I should also explain wet palettes a bit more. Basically they are similar to a regular palette, in that they give you a spot to hold and/or mix paint. But the idea behind the wet palette is to keep your paint nice and wet throughout your painting session. Acrylic paint will noticeably dry out, usually within an hour it will start to get

‘tacky’ (a bit sticky) if left on a dry surface. This will severely impact the paint job on your miniatures, as the paint will become more streaky and gloppy. It will also stick more to your brush and that sure doesn’t help the longevity of the bristles on your brush. You can always add more water to the paint as you go, but sometimes you might not notice right away, and adding more water also dilutes the paint/color. With a wet palette, you are putting the paint on top of parchment paper, which allows the paint to draw water from the sponge up through the paper and keep the paint nice and moist. I usually wet the sponge and then add a few more drops of water around the sponge, so it has additional water to draw from as needed.

Once again, using parchment paper with a wet palette was a big revelation for me earlier this year. That and the seam scraper that I mentioned in Tool Tips 02, were likely the two biggest tool improvements I’ve picked up since I re-entered the hobby. Guess that means you can quit reading now, haha!

Flow Improver

Back in the days of when I was using my plastic palette, I had read about using different mediums to keep the paint from drying out. Makes perfect sense, as drying paint becomes tacky and mucks up the paint job on your miniature. Around this time I also read about retarders that make your paint take longer to dry. This has a useful effect in that the pigment will tend to draw down into crevices as it dries, so that the deeper color will be in the shades. Which with darker colors, is really where you want them.

I picked up some Vallejo Glaze Medium and from then on mixed it with all my paints.

I didn’t have any older minis at that time to compare them to, but I’m pretty sure my painting improved in general because of this.

But things started to go south. I started using less paint and more medium over time. Which meant I was doing 6-7 layers, just for one base color. It likely led to some burn out and/or thinking I could make better use of my time or that playing Minecraft with my son was way more fun.

At any rate, whether it was changing interests or frustration with painting, my attention shifted. When I came back to painting last year, I seemed to have mostly forgotten using medium and just added water to my paints. Okay Faust, so you used to use medium and now it sounds like you don’t, what gives?! Well, having successfully figured out how to use the wet palette, I really don’t see the need to use mediums currently. Perhaps when I get around to trying out wet blending or glazing, I’ll be making use of them. [Yes, Glaze Medium appears to be a crucial ingredient in Wet Blending – Thanks again, Miniac!]

There is one product that I still use a bit, and it’s called Flow Aid (picture at the top of this Flow Improver section). It comes in a nice sized bottle and isn’t horribly expensive. How/when do I use it? Glad you asked!

Metal paints – adding water to metal paints (like Gold) doesn’t seem to work very well. The metallic paints usually apply okay for the first few brush strokes, but then quickly degrade into a sticky mess. Adding more water (or too much water at the start) can make them runny and the last thing you want is the metal paint to run over another color. Most of the time it will be really hard to get rid of it and paint over it. Flow Aid does seem to help though. It will thin the metallic paint enough that it is easier to work with.

Citadel paints – I will likely get into this more later, but the Citadel paints can be really thick. About 5-10ml added to the pot, will help make them more ‘out of the pot’ friendly and easier to work with.

Liquid Absorption

This last weekend I looked around my desk and thought “Man, I have way too many towels lying around, I should put some of those back in the kitchen.”. I had about 3 different hand towels and various sheets of paper towels lying around. I had just sat down for a serious session of painting. I had even filled two glasses of water, so that I wouldn’t have to get up to get clean water as I went through various colors.

So I was busy doing something or other and then went to reach across my desk and *bump* knocked over one of the water glasses. Flooding a good part of the desk. My mouth dropped in horror as water spilled over some painted minis, started to seep under a compartment drawer, etc. BUT…I had towels! I quickly grabbed various towels and paper towels and was able to mop things up pretty fast. The lesson I learned, you can never really have enough towels! It’s very rare that I spill anything, but I will most certainly keep a fair number of towels on hand after that little episode.

Paper towels don’t work too well for cleaning up paint mishaps on a mini, but a dry brush does work pretty well. I’ve sometimes placed paint where I don’t want it or had paint leak into an area that it shouldn’t. I would usually grab a piece of paper towel quickly and try to clean it up. However, paper towels are usually too big to reach in small areas and by the time I could tear a small enough piece to maybe get in the spot, the paint had dried. I had a dry brush on hand one day and tried the same thing, and that works pretty well to clean up the paint. Not perfect, but it got enough of it that a touch up paint job will be easier later and require fewer layers. Now I just have to get in the practice of keeping a dry brush close at hand for those occasions. If you wait more than a few seconds, you will quickly miss the window of opportunity.


Not too surprisingly, the discussion of palettes, specifically wet palettes consumed a lot of time. A wet palette is super easy to make, and really should be a tool that any mini painter uses. If you haven’t had much luck, make sure you are using parchment paper. Definitely give them a try! Next Up: Tool Tips 08 – Brushes.


3 thoughts on “Tool Tips 07 – Keeping your Paint from Drying Out

  1. Another mammoth list of useful tips. That’s really good advice on the wet palette, I’ve only just come across these (I have a long way to go…) and the tips on parchment paper is really good (though I need to check if baking paper is the uk equivalent when I do).

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  2. Thanks bth! Yea, it sounds like it’s the same paper. They are both cellulose based and grease proof. I love the wet palette solution I’ve been using, so nice not to have paint stay consistent during a 1-2 hour session.


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